5 Strategies to Break Out of a Career Plateau
Do you feel like you're on a plateau in your career?
Maybe you’re in a situation where:
- You’re not moving up anymore
- Your boss doesn't seem to be going anywhere so you’re stuck where you are
- Your company is downsizing and there's not a lot of growth or opportunity
- Or your own skill set is no longer what the company needs
Whatever the reason, I understand how frustrating it can feel. Although I had 10 promotions in my 24-year career, there were times in between promotions when I felt like my career was on a plateau.
When you let this feeling linger for too long it can easily destroy your confidence. It’s easy to let it hurt your mood and lead to less than great performance. So, you want to nip it in the bud as quickly as you can.
3 Truths About Being on a Career Plateau
To get in the right frame of mind to move beyond a career plateau, it helps to acknowledge these three truths.
1. If you feel like you’re on a plateau, you're not alone. Everybody's career has ups and downs (and definitely sideways movements too!).
2. It’s important to accept the reality. Understand and see your situation with clear eyes.
The actor, Michael J Fox, summed this point up beautifully in a recent New York Times interview. He talked about the health challenges he’s faced and said:
Accept your situation first, so you can deal with it in a straightforward manner.
3. Make sure you're looking at your situation in the cold, hard light of day. Own the parts of it that belong to you. Learn from those parts and let everything else go. Don’t take any of it personally.
Knowing these truths about being on a career plateau, it’s time to take action with the following strategies.
5 Strategies for Getting Unstuck from a Career Plateau
I’ve found that in situations where you feel stuck, it’s always more energizing when you take action.
So here are five strategies for dealing with a career plateau that you can apply today. And these strategies are not mutually exclusive. You can do more than one at a time.
1. Reframe the situation
Find a way to look at the situation that's much more energizing for you. Maybe it's as simple as saying to yourself, “this is my situation for now”.
Those two words – “for now” – can be hugely significant. Your situation is not permanent because you’re about to address it by taking some different actions now (which we’ll get to shortly). This reframing of the situation can immediately lift your spirits.
You can also reframe your situation and become a great mentor for others. Just imagine, if you feel this way about your career, then the people around you or more junior to you might very well be experiencing this same feeling, maybe even more so. So, use this as an energizing opportunity.
However you may be feeling, you still want to show up as your best self because you never know who else is out there watching. It could be someone who has a future opportunity for you.
2. Envision what you want for yourself
Envision your goals and aspirations for yourself in 3-5 years’ time so that you can start to pave the way to reach them. Also, envision what could be on the horizon for the business you’re part of.
Thinking about that almost always helps you come up with new ideas for how to improve things, especially in a way that grows the pie for everyone. When you grow the pie, you might be just developing a new opportunity that you could go and run as a project. Who knows?
3. Invest in learning new things
A career plateau is an ideal time to invest in your learning. You probably “have your job in a box”, which means you can do it in your sleep. Maybe you’re even a little bored at work.
The good news is, this means that you've got time to invest in learning new things, like taking a course or getting a degree.
You have time to invest in having new experiences, like traveling or going to different kinds of meetings and conferences.
You also have time to invest in relationships and build up your network, which will be key later, to get to where you envision yourself in 3-5 years’ time.
4. Expand your role
You can expand internally. For example, by taking the goals you have now and creating more challenging ones by doubling them – or even thinking about how to multiply them by 10 (“10X” them)!
You could take on some extracurricular roles like running a network or setting up a foundation for your company. You could volunteer yourself for a project outside of your unit that will help you build your network and learn new things at the same time.
You can also expand externally, while still doing your day-to-day job. You could volunteer for a cause that you believe in. You could lean into an existing hobby like running a triathlon or painting.
You could also look to join some boards and take on some non-executive positions. Or you could be starting a side gig that creates some additional revenue streams in addition to your day job.
5. Move to another environment
Finally, you can always move to a new environment. That could be internally to a different unit or externally to a new organization. It could be a lateral (sideways) move or upward into something that emerges, even if you don’t see right now.
To give yourself the option of moving, the first four strategies are very important.
Take Back Control of Your Career
There are always things you can be doing to continue to refresh yourself, including broadening your set of relationships and taking better care of yourself.
Consider ways to keep yourself at the forefront of new developments, such as attending industry events or connecting with thought leaders in your business.
And stay positive because you are the one who manages your career. It's really up to you.
So it's time to take ownership of your career. Shake off any negative feelings or lack of confidence by acting your way into that next possibility.
Which one of these strategies would really move the needle for you if you employ it right now? And what's one action you can take toward implementing that strategy right now?
Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.